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Is some alcoholic drink better than other at preventing heart disease?

In the preceding chapter we learned that the drinking of alcohol is propitious for the health, especially by lowering the mortality rates from heart attacks. We also know that no non-alcoholic beverage, including those containing antioxidants, tannins and acetylsalicylic acid, act to lower death rate as a result of ischemic heart disease as effectively as alcohol. All fruit and vegetables contain antioxidant flavonoids. So, for instance, do garlic and onions have antioxidant properties, which are resistant to high temperatures and are not destroyed through baking or cooking. Non-alcoholic drinks also, such as grape juice and tea, more green than black, have markedly high antioxidant properties. Nevertheless it was shown that taking flavonoids other than in the form of alcoholic drinks did not have any or almost no positive influence on the risk of heart attack.

Consequently the active substance decreasing the risk of heart attack seems to be alcohol, regardless of whether it be wine, drinks of different kinds, liqueurs, hard alcohol itself or even beer. This raises the question: which of these alcoholic beverages is the best.

Not long ago several studies confirmed that drinking wine, beer and other alcoholic drinks all act in the same way in lowering of the risk of death by heart attack. However, there are works documenting the differences between the effects among the individual categories of alcohol. The question is if these different results are not mainly due to the fact that they reflect a dominance of consumption of a certain type of alcoholic beverage in the particular area that is being surveyed. Yet St. Leger, in his fundamental work dating from the year 1979, tested the effects of wine, beer and the consumption of other alcoholic drinks on the incidence of death from heart disease. He unequivocally confirmed that drinking a small amount of wine should have the greatest influence on lowering the risk of death from heart attack, far greater than the consumption of other alcoholic drinks. At the same time beer did not offer any protection whatsoever against the incidence of death from heart attack. Other works which followed this clearly showed that the risk of death from heart disease through drinking wine is lower than with other alcoholic beverages. For example from an extensive research on almost 130,000 adults it emerged that drinking wine was far better and protected some 30% to 40% more persons against death from heart attack than the drinking of other alcoholic beverages.

At recent congresses dedicated to the drinking of wine and heart attacks, the favourable effects of wine, which is considered to offer indisputably the best protection against death by cardiac arrest, are ever more frequently documented. In California wine was also found to be the best among the individual drinks, and far more effective than beer. Beer, however, was more beneficial in the fight against the risk factors of heart attack than other alcoholic drinks. The latest studies, from Great Britain, Sweden and Denmark, show that wine drinking is a better protection against the onset of a coronary disease than beer or hard alcohol. Antioxidants might be the vital ingredient which, in the form of alcoholic drinks, i.e. wine, especially red wine and occasionally also beer, contribute to the favourable effects against death from heart attack and also to the fact that wine is better at protecting against heart attack than any other types of alcoholic drinks. Also of interest is the fact that white wine showed up better in the protective effects against heart attack than red wine.

However, in a study undertaken on 305,000 individuals, Rimm stated that the drinking of alcohol per se has a beneficial impact on death from heart disease and not the differences between the various types of alcohol. Moreover, alcoholic drinks were found to be the most effective, for example, in the study undertaken on health workers. The notion that drinking alcoholic beverages has an affirmative influence on decreasing death by heart attack came about in particular in earlier studies from the United States. It is however known that it is precisely in the USA where it is mainly other alcoholic beverages that are consumed and not wine, and only in recent years has drinking wine on its own increased among the higher social classes. When other authors have compared the influence of drinking 24 grams of alcoholic drinks in the form of vodka to the drinking of the same quantity of alcohol in red wine on the blood lipids, they discovered that vodka, like red wine, has approximately the same propitious effect on the serum lipids and that between these two drinks there is no fundamental difference in the effects against the risk of heart attack. This study shows that the active substances in alcoholic beverages are not antioxidants, nor any other substance contained in the wine and partly in beer and are not present in pure alcohol, but that they are the actual alcohol itself.

Beer came out in front of wine as being the most effective in the study undertaken on nurses from the United States of America. This finding was surprising inasmuch as it is not in accordance with the great majority of studies which regard beer as the least effective, if not almost ineffective. The exception to this being in areas in which the consumption of beer takes first place. This is particularly apparent in the work of Šimon and Rosolová from Pilsen, where the beneficial influence of beer is evidently connected to the overwhelming consumption of that particular beverage. For the Japanese residents in Hawaii, too, beer came up trumps at lowering the mortality rates resulting from heart attack. In that particular geographical region, however, wine as an alcoholic beverage is almost unknown.

An interesting study on the influence of drinking a variety of types of alcohol took place in three regions in France. The total consumption of alcohol positively correlated to the level of HDL cholesterol in both men and women and no difference was observed in the type of alcoholic drink consumed. The impact of drinking wine, beer and other alcoholic drinks was analogous and had a positive influence on the risk factors of cardiac arrest. Concurrently, out of the 36,250 healthy men living in eastern France, who were monitored over 12 to 18 years, 61% of whom drank wine, 28% beer and 11% were teetotal, it was interesting to note that the abstainers who, in the main lead a healthier lifestyle than the drinkers of alcohol, were the worst protected group against heart attack.


Every type of alcohol causes a lowering of the risk of heart attack and participates in the reduction in deaths therefrom. It is shown that the best is drinking wine, above all white wine. A still open question remains the function of antioxidants in wine, particularly in red, and also in beer. Antioxidants without alcohol have but a minor or else no role whatsoever in lowering of the risk of death from heart attack.

Source: Pít či nepít (Pití vína a srdeční infarkt) / To Drink Or Not To Drink (Wine drinking and cardiovascular diseases)
© Milan Šamánek, Zuzana Urbanová
© RADIX, spol. s r.o.
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